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UH and St. Joseph Announce Joint Venture

The collaboration of the secular University Hospital and its Catholic neighbor, St. Joseph Hospital (later Trinity Hospital, now University Hospital Summerville), may not appear to be a match made in heaven and attempts were made in the early 1990s to block the partnership.

After the Civil War, nuns from the French Catholic order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph came to Georgia initially to support an African-American orphanage in Savannah. They opened Saint Joseph Academy for Young Ladies in Washington, Ga., but when the school burnt down in 1912, Augusta officials enticed them to rebuild in their growing town, promising free land. The sisters migrated to Augusta in late 1912, and after the Catholic community raised $330,000 to open its own hospital, St. Joseph Hospital was founded on Wrightsboro Road as Augusta’s first private hospital in December 1952.

With competition growing among some of the new Augusta hospitals, the governing boards of St. Joseph and University formed a shared services agreement in 1978 and collaborated on the Shepeard Community Blood Center and Augusta Radiation Therapy Center.

“While we’re definitely competing facilities for primary and some secondary services, this doesn’t preclude working together in areas where the community and the two hospitals will benefit,” University Hospital’s then-administrator Ed Gillespie said at the time.

With the two entities entwined with Walton Rehabilitation Hospital, the Augusta Resource Center on Aging and Brandon Wilde Life Care Community, the idea was soon forged that University Health would assume sole responsibility for both hospitals and acute care programs, while St. Joseph would be responsible for Walton Rehabilitation Hospital and home and hospice care programs. “I think what we’re doing here is very unusual,” said Vincent Caponi, St. Joseph Center for Life’s president. Gillespie agreed: “If you can attain a goal or mission by pooling resources rather than competing with those resources, then everybody’s better off.”

The Federal Trade Commission felt differently. When the two organizations began negotiating a merger in 1990, the FTC challenged the deal, claiming it would give University a monopoly over acute care. The deal was abandoned in 1991, and St. Joseph struggled financially, almost shutting down in December 2002.

St. Joseph became Trinity Hospital in 2007, during a period of acquisition and divestment by various companies. University, which rapidly expanded during the 2010s, successfully acquired Trinity in 2017, culminating a partnership nearly 40 years in the making.

The Trinity facility, renamed University Hospital Summerville, now offers acute care and a full Emergency Department but, according to current President and CEO James R. Davis, was designed to serve outpatient and ambulatory care needs, freeing up space at the main University Hospital campus for more streamlined inpatient care.

With the move to University’s nondenominational nonprofit status, the loss of the Catholic-based care at Trinity was bittersweet for some, but most were optimistic.

“I think in the future, as we combine to one, the atmosphere will remain the same because  … we’re going to bring that with us, that joy — that mission is still going to be within us,” said Atheia Turner, Trinity’s patient access manager. “But the opportunity to just grow is going to be welcomed by all. To just come alive again would be awesome.”

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